Drafted a slot ahead of Mike Trout, Randal Grichuk has been held to very high expectations throughout his entire career. But with another demotion to Triple A, is Randal Grichuk proving to be a bust?

Although it may not seem like it, Randal Grichuk is still a very young player. With already three years of big league experience at the age of 24, this becomes very easy to forget.

Since his call up at the age of 21, no one expected him to do anything but trend upwards. In his is second season with the club he exhibited an improved batting average (.276 compared to .245), slugging percentage (.548 compared to .400), and walk rate (6.3% compared to 4.3% ). Things at the time were looking good; Grichuk showed improvement in every aspect of the game, and that is all you can ask out of a young player.

But fast forward to this season, Grichuk is batting a miserable .216 and slugging a mere .414. If that isn’t bad enough, his hard hit ball percentage has also taken a drastic hit:

  • 2014: 45.0%
  • 2015: 36.9%
  • 2016: 34.0%

That statistic in particular is very concerning. For someone who is struggling to hit for contact, you at least hope to see improvement or consistency in power. A decreased hard hit ball percentage shows that Grichuk’s decreased average can’t be attributed to bad luck.

Although these trends are not pretty whatsoever, some statistics do show some promise.

Compared to last season, Grichuk has shown improvement in walk and strike-out rates. These are two areas that he really struggled in when he entered the league, and were definitely areas of focus for the Cardinal’s hitting coaches. In 2015, Grichuk held a walk rate of 6.3% and a strike-out rate of 31.4%. This season, he holds a walk rate of 7.5% and a strike-out rate of 26.6%. Improvement in both of these areas show improvement in pitch selection, which we will define as the ability to judge the type of pitch earlier before it crosses the plate, and determine the final location of the pitch.

If Grichuk has primarily worked on plate discipline in the past year, which is very likely, then Grichuk’s recent struggles may not actually be all too concerning. Sure the numbers aren’t pretty, but it makes sense that certain aspects of a player’s game must be temporarily sacrificed in order to improve others. So my theory is this (bear with me):

Grichuk’s decreased batting average and hard hit ball percentage highlight that he is being cheated on pitches (putting less umphf on every swing he takes). Improving plate discipline means becoming better at swinging at pitches in the zone and not swinging at pitches outside of the zone. As Grichuk improves at doing both of these things, he’s in an in-between state, where he lacks confidence in his selection, and thus takes some low-umphf swings. As he becomes better at seeing which pitches are good and which ones are bad, then he will build confidence. Finally, increased confidence means getting cheated less on pitches, which means higher batting average and power numbers.

If this theory is even somewhat true, then it is way too early to call Grichuk a bust.

Sure two demotions in a year isn’t something you want to see out of the “team’s center-fielder of the future”, but based on my theory we can expect to see improvement soon. In his first season, Grichuk’s hard hit ball percentage of 45.0% would currently be the highest in the MLB (0.5% higher than the current leader, Matt Carpenter). If Grichuk can continue to improve his plate discipline, and return to a similar hard hit ball percentage, then he will be absolutely dominant.

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports